Damon Runyon Blog

January 27, 2017

Peter Van Camp and his wife Laura Grant Van Camp are supporters of the Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award program through the Nadia’s Gift Foundation.  Peter also serves on the Damon Runyon Board of Directors, Scientific Committee and the Bay Area Committee.


Peter and Laura Van Camp believe Damon Runyon’s targeted strategy of supporting the best young scientists tackling innovative cancer research is a perfect match for the Bay Area.  A tech leader himself, Peter equates the Damon Runyon approach with Silicon Valley’s ethos of investing in innovators creating disruptive business models. “Their elite scientific board focused on funding top minds doing high risk-high reward research, coupled with a donor’s ability to develop a personal relationship with scientists they support, makes Damon Runyon unique,” Peter said.  Laura finds it compelling to “come in on the ground floor and see the impact their giving makes in real time.”   


Through Damon Runyon Board member Andy Rachleff, founder of the Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award, Peter first connected with Damon Runyon while researching organizations to support through Nadia’s Gift Foundation, founded on his first wife Nadia’s 50th birthday.  Nadia fought breast cancer for 8 years.  She and Peter had been married for 23 years when she lost her fight.  “Cancer touches us in many ways,” Peter said.  He decided Damon Runyon’s model offered a more impactful approach than they might accomplish on their own.  “You’re hard-pressed to find a significant cancer drug or discovery that hasn’t had a Damon Runyon scientist involved.  12 Nobel Laureates.  Thought leadership that rivals any effort in support of cancer research.”


Nadia’s Gift Foundation has supported three Damon Runyon Innovators, in Pennsylvania, Texas and San Francisco.  Recently, Peter and Laura visited the lab of current Nadia’s Gift Foundation Innovator Peter Turnbaugh, PhD, at UCSF to learn more about his work researching the impact of the gut microbiome on cancer drug resistance.  “Damon Runyon scientists are amazing,” Laura said. “And humble.  That’s a pretty special combination.”  What impresses Peter the most is “the energy and passion, and twinkle in their eye that they have for their work.”


Peter and Laura believe Damon Runyon’s promise that 100% of all donations go directly to research, not overhead or administrative costs, is very attractive.  “The 100% policy means you know exactly where your money is going—to the scientists committed to working toward a cure,” Laura said.  Peter added that it is very important to them to “ensure that our support actually has an impact.”  As a family, they have found their connections with Damon Runyon to be multi-faceted and possibly life-changing.  “Our two sons, ages 14 and 15, have always been interested in science,” Laura said, “but now having met some of the Damon Runyon Innovators, they can see a path for themselves to an exciting and rewarding career.”